Term-time childcare services will resume in line with the return of schools next month, John Swinney has confirmed.
The education secretary laid out the next steps for childcare and early learning ahead of pupils going back to school – expected to be on a full-time basis – on August 11.
Much of Scotland’s childcare sector has been able to resume work in the last week after the country entered phase three of its lockdown exit plan, with various restrictions in place.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing alongside Nicola Sturgeon, Swinney stressed that childcare will “look and feel a bit different” even while the sector reopens.
He announced a £11m “transitional fund” to help childcare centres reopen safely in Scotland from next month, in line with schools.
The education secretary also said a separate, previously announced support fund for childminders will open today for grant applications.
Current restrictions on the mixing of different childcare settings, such as between childminders and nurseries, are expected to be relaxed by the end of the month provided coronavirus cases in Scotland remain low.
Swinney also said he hopes a “bubble” model of childcare – where staff are designated to look after smaller groups of children – won’t be needed.
It comes as one more Scot died with coronavirus after seven days with no deaths of confirmed Covid cases.
A total of 11 new cases were reported in the last day, while the Scottish Government estimates around 700 people in the country in total are infectious.
There are 630 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, up 19, and six patients in intensive care, a figure which is unchanged.
The First Minister said more than 500 people have had the “traumatic” experience of being discharged from intensive care in Scotland after having the virus.
She announced that Dr Nadine Cossette, a liaison psychiatrist at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, has been commissioned to develop proposals for the support of those who have had coronavirus.
The FM went on to thank childcare workers, parents and children for how they had responded to the loss of childcare and schooling during the pandemic.
To Scotland’s youngsters, she said: “You have all been brilliant and I want you to know that everyone is really proud of you.”
Swinney also hailed the country’s “outstanding childcare staff” following the First Minister’s remarks.
He added: “Childcare has carried on during the pandemic.
“Key worker childcare was at the heart of keeping Scotland going during lockdown.
“Without it, Scotland could not have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic the way that we did.”
The education secretary continued: “Looking ahead, I expect term-time childcare settings will reopen in line with schools next month.
“This will be welcome news to parents, families, the childcare workforce and most importantly, to children.
“It is important to remember this reopening is not a return to normal. Childcare will look and will feel a bit different.
“Some public health restrictions will remain in place at that time.”
At the heart of this, he said, would be measures to restrict the number of contacts children and staff have, although strict social distancing is not envisaged.
The focus on childcare and education at Thursday’s briefing came after the group advising the government on the return of schools issued a new report.
It said teachers should not need to wear masks in schools unless they are spending prolonged close contact with a pupil.
The group further confirmed it does not expect pupils will need to socially distance from one another.
Speaking at the briefing, Sturgeon also revealed the policy of shielding for those deemed most vulnerable to Covid could be paused by the end of this month if infection rates stay low.
From Friday, shielding people will be allowed to stay at hotels, visit outdoor markets and gardens and spend time with their partner if they are in a non-cohabiting couple.